From UI to EI: Waging War on the Welfare State


235 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7748-1122-6
DDC 368.4'4'00971





Translated by Richard Howard
Reviewed by Graeme S. Mount

Graeme S. Mount is a professor of history at Laurentian University. He
is the author of Canada’s Enemies: Spies and Spying in the Peaceable
Kingdom, Chile and the Nazis, and The Diplomacy of War: The Case of


This is a history of Unemployment Insurance/Employment Insurance in
Canada, as well as a highly articulate sermon on the growing
hardheartedness of Canadian society. Within the introduction itself,
Campeau writes: “The number of unemployed with access to benefits
[dropped] by half during the 1990s.” He suggests that those who
changed the system engaged in “counter-reform” rather than in

According to Campeau, Canada’s earliest unemployment insurance laws
were modelled on a British plan of 1911. He quickly reviews British
public assistance to the poor since the 17th century, then gives more
detailed information about the 1911 scheme. Canada, however, did not try
to follow in Britain’s footsteps until the Depression of the 1930s,
and even the initial steps proved abortive. Prime Minister R.B. Bennett
introduced his New Deal on the eve of his government’s defeat in the
1935 election, and his plans to assist the unemployed died with his
government. Campeau does not think that they would have been very
helpful if they had survived. Few of the unemployed, he estimates, could
have worked sufficient weeks to qualify for unemployment insurance.

Mackenzie King’s government introduced the Unemployment Insurance Act
of 1940, and the benefits improved steadily until 1975. In the 1988
election, the Mulroney government won a second term, and the following
year, Parliament approved free trade with the United States. For
Campeau, that was the beginning of the end. He titles his 8th chapter,
“The System [of Unemployment Insurance] Hijacked, 1989–1996.” In
1994, he notes, Human Resources Minister Lloyd Axworthy overhauled
Canada’s Social Security program, motivated by the impact of
continental free trade and globalization. Legislation introduced by the
Chrétien government in 2001 made matters worse.

Richard Howard’s translation is excellent. The prose flows so
smoothly, without any noticeable gallicisms, that if the publishers had
not mentioned that the author had written his manuscript in French, it
would have been almost impossible to guess.


Campeau, Georges., “From UI to EI: Waging War on the Welfare State,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 20, 2024,